ProFiles | Steve Best

As both a stand-up comedian and a photographer, Steve Best enjoys unparalleled access behind the closed doors of the comedy circuit. His stylish, artful images show a different side of people we recognise from panel shows and comedy clubs. Sometimes they’re nervous, sometimes they’re excited, sometimes they seem decidedly contemplative.

It’s this knack for capturing a different side of his funny-people subjects that has made Steve such a popular figure on the comedy circuit – a popularity that has also translated to two successful photobooks. 

Steve owns a few bits of kit from Fixation, so we were thrilled when he agreed for a sit-down to chat about his work and his ongoing ‘Comedians’ project. So, let’s get into it!

Steve Best, . Photo Steve Best
Photo Steve Best

Fixation: Thanks for talking with us Steve. Your ‘Comedians’ project is a favourite on the comedy circuit and beyond – how did it all come about?

Steve Best: I’ve always been interested in photography. I’d been doing stand-up for years and years, and I had a little Ricoh point-and-shoot film camera which I’d take on my holidays. I really loved that camera, and then I got the digital version of it. Because it was so small, I used to just slip the camera into my pocket, and so I’d take it to gigs. And there, I would just take a snapshot of a comedian backstage I was speaking with at the time. That was how it started. 

That must have been the year two thousand and… something! But eventually I did that first little book, Comedy Snapshot. It’s a chunky little book with more than four hundred comedians – I took a snapshot of them, and then they all gave me a one-liner joke, and four or five facts.

They were just little portrait snapshots, but they went down so well with the comedy community that I decided to lose a lot more money and do another book!

So we did another book, very similar to the first, called Joker Face. It was nearly twice the size, chunky-wise – which I got told off for, because the spec was meant to be the same, but I just kept on adding comedians. 

And for my photography, that was when I started upping my game a bit. I got into Fujifilm – I had the X-Pro1 at the time. The pictures are still snapshots; they’re not, you know, ‘proper’ portrait shots, but that’s what I want it to be. It was never meant to be stylish; it was just me being backstage, having access to these comedians. 

Mike Gunn, through the curtain at the Hammersmith Apollo. Photo Steve Best
Mike Gunn through the curtain at the Hammersmith Apollo. Photo Steve Best

Fixation: I was wondering about your shooting process – do you approach different people in a different way? Or do you have a more set process that seems to work every time?

Steve Best: I think because I’m accepted in that world – I’m ‘one of them’, as they say – their guard does kind of come down slightly. So I know that they will not play up to the camera, and I can just chat with them. For instance, there are quite a lot of mirror shots where I’m looking at the comedian, I’m chatting with them as well, and I’m just surreptitiously pinging the shutter.

That kind of backstage work is actually one of the reasons why recently I got a Leica Q, which I really love because it’s so quiet. It’s so nice. So I can just muck around – even with the big names, as I know most of them now. That’s how you’re kind of let into this world. I think the backstage photographs are slightly more interesting than the front-of-stage photographs – because people see the front of the stage, but most people don’t see backstage.

Fixation: You mentioned you’re shooting on the Leica Q, which is a gorgeous camera. Do you have much else in your setup at the moment?

Steve Best: I’ve always had a Fuji. Fujifilm has been really good to me. I bought myself a Fujifilm X-Pro1 to start with, and Fujifilm lent me a load of gear early on, so I’m very loyal to Fuji and I really love their stuff. I’ve moved on to the medium format for my portrait stuff – a GFX 50S, which I bought second-hand through Fixation. I’ve got the 32-64mm lens, and the 80mm. The 80mm has taken me so long to get used to the focusing, but for portrait work it’s really great.

I’ve actually used medium format live as well – I’ve found a way of using it for shooting live performances, which I love, I think it’s fantastic. It’s sluggish, but it’s great to get a different kind of image. 

Michael Fabbri and Joe Rowntree, Photo Steve Best
Michael Fabbri and Joe Rowntree, waiting to go on stage, and you can see he’s a bit stressed. Photo Steve Best

Fixation: Is there a particular image of yours that’s a favourite, or one you look on most fondly?

Steve Best: I think maybe there are two. The one of Mike Gunn through the curtain at the Hammersmith Apollo is the one people often comment on, and it got shortlisted for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. I like that one because although it’s an on-stage image, I’m backstage, peeking through the curtain. I like the light, and the fact that he’s on his own – even though he’s actually in front of three and a half thousand people, it’s quite a lonely picture. 

I do also like the one of Barry Cryer. But the other one I was thinking of is one of the first pictures I took, which is one of Michael Fabbri and Joe Rowntree. Joe’s head is on the doorframe; he’s waiting to go on stage, and you can see he’s a bit stressed. And Michael Fabbri, he’s just finished his set, so he’s lying on the couch, and is very relaxed.

Barry Cryer, . Photo Steve Best
Barry Cryer, relaxing. Photo Steve Best

Fixation: Lastly, you’ve photographed absolutely loads of comedians, but are there any you haven’t photographed yet whom you’d like to?

Steve Best: Tim Minchin. I think he’s a great performer. And I’ve never got hold of Bill Bailey, which would be nice as well. There are still a few people out there. I’m always trying to collect people.

Steve Best was talking to Jon Stapley. See more of his books and prints at


ProFiles | Sean Smith

How much can change in six months. When we got in touch with Guardian photographer and filmmaker Sean Smith to see if he’d be interested in a ProFile on the blog, the year 2019 was coming to a close and the December election was weeks away. People were already making predictions for what 2020 might look like, and it seems likely that pretty much all of them were very, very wrong.

We originally spoke to Sean because he was in trying out the new Sony A9 II – its whip-fast autofocus and sophisticated tracking makes it ideal for his kind of work, where a matter of split seconds might be the difference between getting and missing the critical shot.

We were able to set Sean up with an A9 II and appropriate lenses to try out, and after a few days, we checked in with him to see how he was getting on with it. While we had to hit pause on our content for a while due to the onset of COVID-19, this is the kind of question that photographers are very much still wrestling with today. So let’s find out a little more about Sean’s experiences with the Sony A9 II…

Thanks for talking with us, Sean. What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve been working on a feature on Corbyn. It’s coming out on the 30th [November], I think, but it’s from earlier, before the election was called, with a little bit from now. I’ve been to Liverpool, Telford – will probably go up to Lancaster tomorrow.

Jeremy Corbyn, waiting for train from Morecombe. Photo Sean Smith
Jeremy Corbyn, waiting for train from Morecombe. Photo Sean Smith

And you’ve been trying out the Sony A9 II?

I just started with it the other day.

What are your impressions?

I think I’m convinced.

Were you not expecting to be?

No [laughs].

I mean – I knew [Getty photographer] Chris Furlong had started using it, then I talked to [PR and editorial photographer] Jeff Moore about it, and then I went on a trip to Turkey with it, and that was when I started changing my opinion.

Normally cameras come out over the years that change things a bit – they’ve maybe got quicker processing, or a big change to the autofocus, but the principle is that you can pick it up and start using it. And while you can do that with the Sony, there’s much more getting used to it.

What actually got me was [sports photographer] Bob Martin talking about hating the electronic viewfinder to start with, but now really preferring it. And that made me think, I’m gonna have to get my head around this, I’m going to have to learn a little bit, and it’s going to be significantly different, but if people like Bob can see the advantages of it, I’m a little more open to it.

Definitely the autofocus tracking and the eye stuff [Eye AF] works a lot better than other cameras, so if you’re going to be doing something using a lot of autofocus, it seems like a good camera to go with.

Think you’ll stick with it?

I think I probably will. I’m using two cameras at the moment – a Canon and a Leica manual-focus camera for completely different things. I’m not doing much news stuff at the moment, but I do need to use longer lenses and I’ve got a job coming up in the new year that I can see the A9’s silent shutter being being very useful for. I wouldn’t view it as a replacement for the Leica M; it’s horses for courses. But I could see myself using it instead of the Canon, and trading in my Canon stuff.

You’ve done some interesting projects throughout 2019, like your work in Baghdad, among others. Any personal highlights?

This year? Awful year. I’ve done hardly anything [laughs].

I mean, Baghdad is an interesting case in point. I took the Leicas there – I didn’t have a press permit, had to get it a few days later – and if I’d had the other cameras, I probably would have had them get impounded. You have to have a list of equipment to take in, which has to go through a press centre. Video cameras they’ll immediately stop, and fancy-looking SLRs and that kind of thing they’ll quite often impound until you get your permit.

But anyway, I’ve been spending a reasonable amount of time on the Corbyn thing on and off throughout the year. Hopefully it’ll look okay when it comes out in the magazine.

Baghdad, Iraq, for Guardian CITIES. Muhammed Samir on stilts about to go on stage. part of the “Bombi band for children” troupe who put on a show once a week at Zawraa park. Photo Sean Smith
November 2019. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn backstage at the Manchester Apollo about to go on stage. Photo Sean Smith

Were you trying to do something different with it?

Yes, I was trying to get something a little bit different, following him on and off with varying degrees of success and cooperation. They [the Labour Party] are fairly guarded, understandably, as they’ve not got many supporters in the media. Strangely, every time they get upset about something, which is usually to do with something someone’s written, they tend to blame the photographers, who aren’t really anything to do with it! They don’t say outright, “We’re blaming you for this.” But the shutters come down again and it gets harder, and you’re like, have a go at the writers, not the photographers!

Have you seen much change in terms of political access or hostility to the press and photographers in recent years?

I think because of the unparalleled level of hostility to Corbyn since his election as party leader – most of the papers, including the Guardian, weren’t exactly in favour – I can understand the urge to close ranks and try to do everything through social media.

Blair was much more open to favoured press and favoured journalists. General elections have become very different to when I first started covering them – you’d have lots of stopping and campaigning in fairly public places, going through shopping centres. It was much more accessible to the public, and therefore to photographers. That completely started changing around the last election, though I think this one may be a bit like going back a bit in time. I think they will all have to get out and meet people who aren’t all hand-picked.

Do you like covering this kind of thing – elections and politics?

Not really [laughs]. It’s the teams minding people that tend to be more difficult than the actual politicians themselves. But I’ve sometimes enjoyed covering Corbyn. I preferred it earlier when there was less interest, and some quieter moments, but I think I’d rather be covering some other events.

Anbar province, Iraq near the Syrian border, 2005. The soldiers are US marines putting plastic explosives on an I.E.D ( the shells wire together). To the side of the shells you can see the pressure plate, a couple of bits of wood taped together, with foot prints (including mine), very close. Photo Sean Smith

So do you have any dream subjects, things you’d like to cover but haven’t?

Not really, I’d just like to carry on doing the kind of things I have been doing, trying to tell the stories of ordinary people in difficult circumstances.

The stuff that doesn’t get enough attention?

I don’t think it does. The press talk more and more about how they supposedly want to give those things attention. That doesn’t seem to be the case to me. Some of the international conflict stories I’ve covered are not divorced from politics in this country, or in America or in Europe for that matter. So I think they should be looked at. But, you know, things cost money. I don’t know what I’ll be able to do. It depends whether they’ll give me the money or let me do it!

29/11/2014 Tchula Mississippi USA. Patrolman Willie Phillips Jnr born in the town back 7 years at the scene of a shooting where the young man died. Photo Sean Smith
29/11/2014 Tchula Mississippi USA. Patrolman Willie Phillips Jnr, born in the town, at the scene of a shooting where a young man died. Photo Sean Smith

How much autonomy do you have in what you cover?

The times I’ve got editors’ support to do conflict stuff, it was usually not with support from the picture desk. Corbyn was something I put forward. I thought, agree with him or don’t agree with him, whether he succeeded or lost, it’d be an important debate about two different ways the country should go forward. No one was very keen on that. but I did it. I don’t think I’ve ever done anything that I thought was worthwhile where people were saying, “Great, go and do that.” I think with every single one there’s been an opposition from people, saying, “What’s the point, we can get this from here, we don’t need to do it.” It’s never been, “Yes, go ahead and do that.”

2003. Iraq. Baghdad. A team of burial volunteers at Yamouk hospital. The hospital was forced to close and the patients evacuated. A small team of stayed behind to bury the dead and try a stop it from being looted. Photo Sean Smith

Do you have a project you’re proudest of?

I’m glad I persisted in covering Iraq. I’m glad I was there before the invasion. I think it was a watershed moment in terms of foreign policy. Not just for this country – the narrative that we were being told for a long time was that it was all a rip-roaring success with a few little difficulties. I thought my job as a photographer was to go and have a look, see what was happening. Certainly quite a bit was happening. And the same with Afghanistan.

I’d like to be covering that stuff again. I’d like to be talking to people, trying to let people talk, and taking pictures.

North west Iraq. Ubaydi. A soldier passes a burning building. US troops took over the town yesterday, after a two day battle as part of an ongoing offensive against insurgents in the north west. Residents had to flee the town . All men of military age were detained. Photo Sean Smith
Iraq, Ubaydi. Operation Steel Curtain. US marines took over the town yesterday, as part of an ongoing offensive against insurgents in the North west. Iraqi residents had to flee the town. All men of military age were detained, November 16, 2005. Photo Sean Smith / The Guardian
North west Iraq. Operation Steel Curtain nears its end with a sweep along the north Euphrates river at Ramana, near the border with Syria. Detainees with their hands in cuffs, are taken by helicopter for questioning.
This photo subsequently won the Photograph of the year in the 2006 Press Photographer’s Year awards.
Photo Sean Smith

You can see more of Sean’s projects over on his profile page on the Guardian, and follow him on Twitter. Copies of Sean’s book, Frontlines, are available from the Fixation showroom.

Guardian articles:
Sean’s photo essay on the Corbyn election campaign.
Feature on Tchula, Mississippi.


Simon Reed

ProFiles | Simon Reed

If you happened to pass the Houses of Parliament over a recent bank holiday weekend, you may have spotted some of Simon Reed’s handiwork.

Simon is a co-founder of Extraordinary Spatial Performance, a company that uses detailed knowledge of architecture, events and digital projection to transform spaces with live, dynamic imagery. Together with his other co-founder David Keech, Simon has worked with a range of clients on all sorts of different installation, using the latest cutting-edge projection technology to deliver incredible, live visual feasts. He also documents these projects on film, with the help of some camera equipment from his local friendly hire company (ahem).

Copyright Simon Reed© Simon Reed (Portrait)

One of Simon and David’s most recent ESP projects was actually a pro bono piece – an amazing projection on the side of the Palace of Westminster in support of Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust and the Florence Nightingale Museum, celebrating International Nursing Day with enormous images projected across the width of the Thames.

Copyright Simon Reed© Photo by Jill Mead

You can check out a wonderful short video of the project here. We were hugely impressed, and were pleased when Simon agreed to chat with us for a ProFile to tell us a little more about ESP and the work he’s been doing. So, let’s get started!

Hi Simon – and congratulations on your success at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust! The images look incredible.

Thanks! With the lockdown, what we really wanted to do was offer something pro bono and do some really positive messaging. We reached out to the NHS Trust, and to our surprise they came back and asked if we’d like to do something.

Copyright Simon Reed© Photo by Jill Mead (The display was designed to commemorate the great work of the Trust, as well as celebrating International Nursing Day)

The biggest challenge was that we didn’t realise the sheer scale of their original vision they wanted to achieve! It’s about 250 metres across the Thames, and they originally envisaged about 160 metres wide area of projecting against the Palace of Westminster. If we had done this commercially, a project of this complexity would have been a considerable budget to deliver.

We work with a lot of the technology manufacturers who are normally very positive in helping us out, but a combination of lock-down restrictions and only two working days notice to mobilise meant they were unable to find enough special projectors and lenses in time – so we just had to bite the bullet and hire in the only four 30,000-lumen projectors we could find. Working at pace with our clients, we had to adapt the graphics over the weekend, obtaining all the permissions we needed from the Port of London Authority and the Houses of Parliament – also getting the Houses of Parliament to switch all their lights off! We are grateful to the Florence Nightingale Museum who have since covered our hire cost.

Copyright Simon Reed© Photo by Ian Wallman  (The bank of 30,000 lumen projectors at St Thomas Hospital)

The client approached us on the Thursday before the bank holiday weekend, and we were able to work at speed to pull it all together. We had a challenging moment late on the afternoon of the projection when the power failed, but a trip to Halo in Islington, 5 minutes before they closed, supplied us with the 100 meters of 3 phase cabling we required! We felt a huge sense of achievement and loved working with the NHS trust and Museum . We got a huge amount of interest as well as positive feedback from the Trust, and hospital staff. We are especially grateful to, Jill Mead, who took some lovely photographs. We hired a camera from Fixation and did a little 30-second video.

On the back of that, we’re in talks now with other London Boroughs to do other great things. It’s really worked out, and the technology providers who make these wonderful bits of projection equipment are really engaged with us. We’ve had a tremendous amount of attention on social media, so it’s something we want to do again for a great cause.

Copyright Simon Reed© Photo by Jill Mead  (A tricky few days – but an extraordinary success)

Going back to the beginning – how did Extraordinary Spatial Performance come about, what kicked it all off?

Both David Keech and I, met when we both worked at [architectural firm] Foster + Partners a number of years ago – I’m an architect and David is an industrial designer. After a while we went our separate ways, and for a number of years I worked for a number of developers and for AECOM, a multi-disciplinary practice involved with large scale developments and public realm including the 2012.Olympics in London and 2016 Rio Olympic Games –  where I saw potential to transform spaces with large scale digital projections.

After leaving AECOM I started consultancy work with Keech Design, David Keech’s firm, who worked closely with technology manufacturers, including the latest generation of laser projectors. We instantly saw an opportunity to combine this technology within the built environment and said, “Hey, we’ve got something here.” We realised we could find uses for the projection technology that even the manufacturers hadn’t thought about. Stuart Harris, a projection mapping genius with a solid events background, joined us early on and plays a pivotal role in our delivery enabling us to do things we did not think of being possible.

The magic of the projection, if you get it right, is that it occupies and can transform a space, but then when it’s switched off, you’re instantly back in the room which reverts back to its original use and it leaves no trace. It doesn’t have this permanency – in today’s life, everywhere you go you’re sort of followed by merchandising screens. Piccadilly Circus is now in everybody’s living room, on everybody’s journey to work! It’s everywhere and it’s overwhelming, so we wanted to pare it down, step back and really play with the timings of everything. The result is a spectacle – it engages people, delights them, cheers them up, people interact with what we do.

So that was our starting point, and now it’s really taking off!

Copyright Simon Reed© Simon Reed (A preview of ESP’s proposal for American airports.)

What kind of role do you take – do you direct the shoots and the overall projects?

At the moment, we bring together all our own practitioners – filmmakers, motion graphics experts, people with installation and projection mapping knowledge. Whilst David Keech and I are the founders, at this stage we’re still very, very much hands-on; I like to get involved right at the very beginning of a project, get the ideas going then, bring in all the disciplines to create something that works with the client’s budget and the space. That space may be an outside space like the Houses of Parliament, or it might be a tiny little room. We love being able to work at all scales and digital projection allows us to use every possible surface.

I like to get involved with the content; I storyboard, I sketch everything out. I’m learning the discipline of a filmmaker from our Director of Photography David Smith, and I now think in frames per second, looking at motion content in terms of what is the optimum duration, to have the biggest impact.

© Simon Reed (The team’s bespoke projector modelling software)

I scripted our showcase trailer for what we do, putting together a theme of a car driving by these colossal urban structures down by Southbank, which become animated and start telling the story of the spaces that we want to change – whether it’s a restaurant or a sports stadium spaces are our stage. This is currently the landing page on our website

I really like to get involved with all stages of the creative process, and engage with clients all the way through to delivery. For the Houses of Parliament , Stuart and I set up in the afternoon, and we were the last one to leave the site at two o’clock in the morning!

© Simon Reed (It all starts with a hand-drawn sketch…)

Did you find it quite a learning curve, getting involved with filmmaking?

Absolutely. We’ve been very careful to work with the right people and to grow organically over the last few months; the people who make up our team are all exceptional in their trades. These are people who work together; we all read each other’s mind, we have all got the same temperament, and we respond to each other’s input to intuitively to fill in the gaps and make connections

© Simon Reed (The camera set up on location to capture an ESP project)

Filmmaking is something that I’ve always been fascinated by, and to work alongside people like David Smith, who actually have the patience to equip you with such knowledge is a real privilege. It’s something that previously in a corporate world I wasn’t able to do – I was busy winning work and running big offices! As you say, it’s a massive learning curve, but I think we’re lucky in that we’re working with technologies that are evolving, and we’re evolving at the same pace along with them through our own research and development. We are a part of that collaborative process. Amazingly everybody is able to talk to each other in a simple, non-technical way to actually get results.

© Stuart Harris (Projection at Stonehenge)

And it must be so satisfying to see those results come together – I’d imagine it could be almost addictive.

As an architect, I worked on the London Gherkin when I was at Foster + Partners, and that took five or so years of my life. It frustrated me – architecture is very process-driven, and whilst there are periods of incredible creativity, everything takes such a long time. What I like about the medium that we are working with now is that it is almost instantaneous – yes there are processes, there’s equipment, there are the frustrating gateways with the need for client sign off and that sort of thing, but once you’ve got through there is an immediacy of seeing results.

Very early on in the design process, we make little films of our ideas to convince our clients, to take a project forward, and we find that it’s infectious. We’ve never had a situation where we have sat down with a client and their jaws haven’t hit the table and said something like, “Oh my God, how can we do this?”.

It’s nice that it’s a quick process, and you see the results that are totally transformative to a building. And what’s most rewarding is that it’s not highbrow – you don’t have to have an arts background and a degree in architecture to appreciate it. This is universal, and when you see people’s faces and they engage in it, they get their phones out, they take photographs – they want to let others know about the joy they’re experiencing. That is a great, great feeling.

Simon Reed was talking to Jon Stapley. You can find Extraordinary Spatial Performance on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, as well as their website,

Peter Dazeley (Dancer: Lisa Welham)

ProFiles | Peter Dazeley

Born and raised in the capital, photographer Peter Dazeley has London in his bones. He now has three books of London photography to his name – Unseen London, London Uncovered, and London Theatres with a fourth book London Explored coming out this Autumn subject to Chinese printers and the virus, – and it’d be hard to think of many people whose knowledge could rival his when it comes to the city’s hidden-away places.

And this is only a small part of a varied, storied career. Dazeley has been a successful advertising photographer for many years now, as well as exploring the worlds of fine art and still life, including a fascinating series on the paraphernalia owned by notorious East end organised crime kingpins, the Kray twins. Dazeley was even awarded the British Empire Medal in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List in 2017 for his services to photography and charity.

Dazeley has been a regular face at Fixation over the years, and we were thrilled he found the time to chat with us about his life, his career, and most importantly, photography. So, let’s get started!

Portrait of Dazeley by Sarah Ryder Richardson

Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, Peter! Let’s start by going back a bit – what made you decide that photography was the career for you?

I went to Holland Park Comprehensive (now known as the Socialist Elton), which was the first purpose-built comprehensive in London. There were two and a half thousand kids, with a swimming pool, three gymnasiums, woodwork, metalwork, engineering, domestic science, a technical drawing office, laboratory, and… photographic studios and darkrooms. And so I got into photography from that – many years later I discovered that I was wildly dyslexic, which made a lot of sense as to why I was so hopeless at school, and then when I was 15 years old I saw an ad in the Evening Standard and went along with my mum for an interview at an advertising studio at the bottom of Fleet Street. And they gave me a job as an assistant photographer.

Had you picked up much knowledge of photography by that point?

I think it was kind of like I’d fallen into it. At school we used to photograph on glass plates, and at my first job we printed from glass plates, and I was just given a great opportunity and encouraged to do little bits on my own and work my way up.

© Peter Dazeley  (Burning Typewriter, illustrating the concept of fake news |  Fruit in Water shot for M&S  | Jacket on chair shot for Vendome and menswear brand Hackett)

Do you think that had an influence on the way you now work in so many different spaces – still life, portraiture, advertising, fine art, etc?

I’ve had assistants over the years who were at university or college and were encouraged to be specifically a portrait photographer or a lifestyle photographer, or a car photographer. The thing to me that seemed more sensible was to take on anything I could get my hands on. I have friends that are food photographers that just shoot food all day long – different clients see me as a different type of photographer.

©  Peter Dazeley (Dancer: Lisa Welham)

©  Peter Dazeley (Labour Party election campaign poster)


©  Peter Dazeley (Godon Ramsay ad, shot for Gordon’s Gin)

Working in still-life, both commercially and personally, I’m curious as to how you approach the challenge of assembling your compositions. Is it a lot of planning?

I guess it’s problem-solving. The idea is to be a problem-solver, not a problem to the client, so that you’re really taking care of their needs. And so I’m surrounded by a selection of freelance set-builders, stylists, location-hunters – all sorts of different people who bring different things to the party. I have a retoucher that works for me, and she actually brings some of the work to life. I could never be as good as she is at doing it. It’s really about bringing all those things together.

So it’s quite a collaborative process?

Yes. The crazy thing about being an advertising photographer is that I’ll be working with an art director and we’ll be going down a certain route and I’ll be thinking, ‘This looks terrible, why are we doing it like this?’ And then a couple of months later, I see the ad and I think, ‘Wow, doesn’t that look great? That’s taking me somewhere I would never have been.’ That’s the wonderful collaborative side of working with art directors and designers.

© Peter Dazeley (Dove Campaign)

I’ve also been so appreciative of the wonderful service I’ve received from Barry and his team at Fixation over the years, it has been a delight discussing my work with Fixation. For someone who is wildly dyslexic and hates reading instruction booklets, to have them up my sleeve has been fantastic!

Are there any shoots that have been particular highlights?

We did a poster campaign for the Terrence Higgins Trust many years ago. I’d been messing around shooting nudes with an anamorphic lens, which is like a widescreen cinema lens – if you spin it around one way you have long, thin people, and the other way around you get short, fat people. It’s a nice little device because it just looks slightly odd, not too weird, and then we shot it completely out of focus so that you couldn’t recognise anybody. We heard that in the Gay Pride march people were taking the posters off the walls, which was a lovely compliment. Shooting things that were completely out of focus was pretty weird, but it won awards.

Copyright Peter Dazeley© Peter Dazeley (Solarised Platinum Man, printed by 31 Studios)

You work on plenty of your own personal projects too – I’m thinking in particular of your still-life work on the memorabilia of the Kray twins, which is a fascinating study on the way objects reveal character.

Copyright Peter Dazeley© Peter Dazeley (Ronnie Kray’s Intimidating Glasses)

Yes – a big part of my life is trying to come up with new ideas, new people, new places or objects to photograph that I can make something of.

What does it take to put a project like that together? It must be nerve-racking at the start when you’re not sure if it’s going to work.

Part of my life is schmoozing. To talk about how things developed, I have a flat on the river Thames overlooking Battersea Power Station, and I managed to wangle getting in there and get let loose in there for a day, and it’s just an amazing place, with what’s left of this art-deco building. It created a wonderful set of pictures, and then my agent sent it around with a newsletter and Creative Review picked it up and ran it. Then of course a lot of people stole it and looted it, but that was how my first book started. It just seemed to me to be a lovely thing to photograph my London, so I set about finding a publisher and we managed to produce the book Unseen London, which took about four years.

Copyright Peter Dazeley© Peter Dazeley (Crossness Sewage Pumping Station, being restored. Picture from Unseen London)

How did you go about selecting locations for the book – was it a big list you had to whittle down?

I’m a born and bred Londoner. I thought I knew London well before I produced Unseen London! A lot of the places in that book you can’t actually get to see, like the Ministry of Defence and the inside of Downing Street. So as a reaction to that, I did my second book, which was London Uncovered, featuring places that you could go and see. Having done the first book, it was much easier to do the second one, because I could show them the book and say ‘We’d like to put you in one of these.’ So that one only took me about a year.

In the first two books we included some theatres, and afterwards my publisher suggested that it be nice to do something on London theatres. And that was one of the most exciting books I’ve done. The books are a bit like a hobby; they’re not vastly money-making, especially not when you think about the effort that goes into them.

I’d say the book London Theatres was a highlight of my career, as the writer I worked with on the book, Mike Coveney, managed to get Mark Rylance to write the foreword. I would have been happy with a paragraph, but he wrote about a thousand words of beautiful stuff about what he looks for in a theatre, how the boxes must have people in them rather than technical equipment, how the ceiling affects how he’ll be able to speak and more. We did a book launch at the National Theatre, which for me was a paid gig to be on stage with Sir Mark Rylance talking about theatres, then we sold a whole load of books, signed some books and then had dinner together. So that really was the highlight of my career!

Copyright Peter Dazeley© Peter Dazeley (Royal Opera House Auditorium, from London Theatres)

And a theatre does feel like a dream subject for a photographer.

I think as punters, we walk into a theatre, we buy a ticket, we go and we sit down, and we just look forward. We don’t see the beauty. They are amazing. Though such expensive things to run – heaven knows how they’re going to be getting through this virus, how long it’ll be before people will be able to sit down next to each other again.

I also wanted to ask about your fine-art work, which you produce on platinum prints.

Well, I don’t produce those prints. I have a wonderful company in Gloucestershire called 31 Studios that produces platinum prints which is quite a time-consuming process. A quick description is: you start off with handmade French watercolour paper, then you apply the emulsion with a very special brush – it takes a kind of genius to actually paint an emulsion onto a piece of paper with no ridges or any marks on it, completely smooth. And then you print it under ultraviolet light – for want of a better word, it’s a recipe from the 1800s, it’s like kind of alchemy really. It produces a print which you put in the developer and it comes up in a flash. It has amazing tones and longevity.

© Peter Dazeley (Solarised Aladdin Tulips, printed by 31 Studios)

I’m sure it’s quite something to see in person – even the scans are gorgeous.

They are wonderful things. But the expense…

I can imagine. So is there anything you haven’t tried yet that you’d like to? Any dream projects?

I’m gearing up to try and work on another book. I think I’ve got a list of about 200 different ideas that I would like to photograph. Sometimes when you research an idea, you find that it’s not that photographable or that interesting, but a lot of times you go and you discover a whole load more. As I get older now and I’m working less commercially, that’s probably what I’m going to do.

Copyright Peter Dazeley© Peter Dazeley – Cover of Dazeley’s fourth book, London Explored, being published by Quarto Autumn 2020. Cover features: Crystal Palace Subway and the Ceiling of Drapers Hall

Peter Dazeley was talking to Jon Stapley. You can see more of his work at or buy his books from here



ProFiles | Tolga Akmen

There’s never a dull day for Tolga Akmen. A freelance press photographer shooting the news in the heart of London for Agence France-Presse (AFP), it’s his job to chase down the latest big stories, get cosy with the famous and the powerful, and every day find an informative new angle for the various ongoing political dramas that surround us.

Even though he’s just 28 years old, Tolga has made a real name for himself in the press photography community – in fact he was recently honoured with the Fixation News Photographer of the Year Award at the UK Picture Editors’ Guild Awards for his impressive body of work!

Though he’s busy shooting the unfolding saga of the COVID-19 crisis – the world doesn’t stop for press photographers – Tolga graciously agreed to find time to spare for a chat with us about his experiences and highlights of a wild, turbulent year in the thick of it as a press photographer.

So, over to Tolga!

Copyright Tolga Akmen© Tolga Akmen

Thanks for talking to us, Tolga – and congratulations on the Picture Editors’ Guild Award! Were you surprised to win?

Yes, definitely. It’s one of those categories that I thought always went to the really big names of the business, the people that everyone looks up to – I wasn’t expecting that they would give it to a 28-year-old! It was superb. It was such an honour.

Do you have any particular personal highlights from the past year or so – moments or images you look back on with particular fondness?

Well, it was the year of Brexit.

I mean, every year is that now…

I know! It’s never gonna end. But that was the biggest story we had [in 2019]. Every day we were waking up and thinking to ourselves, “What can we do today with Brexit? What are the stories, what are the angles?”

That’s an interesting challenge – it’s basically the same story happening every single day, so how do you take a different angle on it?

Exactly. At the beginning of 2019 – between February and April – every day we were just thinking, “Is it going to be today that we’re going to get the major announcement that the PM [Prime Minister] is stepping down?” Every day there was this moment of panic, because there were a fair amount of speeches happening at Downing Street, and we were never sure whether they would be just updates about Brexit or THE speech where the PM would announce she was stepping down.

Copyright Tolga Akmen© Tolga Akmen

So one of my highlights from the beginning of the year was a picture I submitted in the winning set, of [Theresa] May almost crying. It was a bit of a surreal moment – her voice started cracking, and you could tell she was really upset and wouldn’t be able to say anything more, and she turned around and just left. It was one of those moments where you just don’t think; you react on instinct and hammer it down.

After that, [President] Trump coming to the UK was the big story. I did a rota with the Queen and the President in Buckingham Palace, and that’s one of the moments I’ll definitely look back on, as it was a huge opportunity.

I love that shot. He looks like he’s just droning on, maybe to her, maybe to someone else.

Well, he was talking to the Queen. But he is the sort of person who just talks a lot. He constantly plays up to the press as well. They were looking at all the different objects Buckingham Palace has collected over the centuries. It was a funny moment I caught, where the Queen was just getting bored of it all.

Copyright Tolga Akmen© Tolga Akmen

Another big story of the year was Extinction Rebellion. That was really one of the biggest things that we covered in London. At first we were worried that they would just let themselves get arrested, and in the past when you’re getting pictures of arrests, as a press photographer you’re usually stuck in the middle and neither the protestors nor the police like you very much or want to give you access. But with this, the police were fine with us and the protestors were fine with us. So we had a good chance to cover them, and they were always quite picturesque, so we could come out with something creative.

Copyright Tolga Akmen© Tolga Akmen

You could get in there and try things out, see what works.

One of Extinction Rebellion’s aims was to make things as colourful and creative as possible, which worked for us in terms of pictures. It was relatively enjoyable and was a great break for us from all the Brexit stuff, so from that perspective particularly it was quite fun. I’m sure we’ll see more of it.

It’s certainly an interesting time to do what you do. I mean… there’s just a lot of news, isn’t there?

It never ends. It’s a funny patch we’re in here; there’s always a big story. I just also find that London is one of those weird places that even a local story becomes an international story so quickly. It’s a pretty fun place to work. You can find so much colourful stuff, so much creative stuff, and in one place you have politics, you have entertainment, you have sports, royals, business, financial stories. All in a relatively small area.

Have you always been in London?

I’m from Turkey. I came to London just over a decade ago for university, and afterwards I ended up getting a fair amount of freelance work, and I ended up staying.

How did you get that start?

When I was at uni my paths crossed with London News Pictures (LNP). At that point they were also starting out as a company, and I suppose they realised that I’m quite keen! They started giving me bits and bobs to photograph, so by my second year of uni I was freelancing a fair amount, and once I finished I started doing stuff for them full-time. And then about two and a half years ago at an awards night, I was introduced to AFP and then started shooting stuff for them. I’ve been on contract with them for about a year and a half now. I also won the Getty Young Photographer bursary about three years ago.

What kind of qualities do you think a good press photographer needs?

I think the most important thing is you’ve just got to be very compatible. You’ve got to be able to fit in everywhere, and you’ve got to be open to trying a lot of different ideas. Most of the time we get asked to cover stories that we don’t really know much about, and we’ve just got to go there and learn about them. Sometimes we find ourselves in places that we don’t know, shooting things that we don’t understand, and we need to adapt if we’re going to actually get a picture.

Copyright Tolga Akmen© Tolga Akmen

I suppose that must be the norm really – when you shoot so much, you’re of course not going to be an expert in everything.

One day you’re taking pictures of Cabinet meetings, and you’ve got to know all the Ministers’ names, and the next day you’re taking pictures of Van Gogh paintings and you’ve got to know the different painting styles. And then the next day after that, maybe you’re doing what we’re doing now [COVID-19], a very complicated medical story, and you’ve got to find different details and photograph how it’s affecting people. You’ve got to be very adaptable. The rest of it is a bit of a balance between creativity and technicality – you’ve got to know how to be creative without losing sight of the technical details that make a picture.

Copyright Tolga Akmen© Tolga Akmen

That’s another interesting challenge – the picture has to be direct and informative, but you also want to get some artistry in there to make it visually interesting.

I think that for an ordinary person, news can be really boring. So it’s our job to make it look as interesting as possible so that we can captivate people’s attention and make them read the stories. It’s an interesting job – you witness something, and you try to show the world what you saw, what you experienced. I think that is a big power, and a big responsibility.

What is your camera setup at the moment?

I’m on Canon. I’ve got a Canon EOS 1D X Mark II, an EOS 5D Mark IV, and Canon lent me an EOS R. It’s really nice with the 50mm f/1.2 lens, the massive one. I wish I could FTP [file transfer] stuff from it, and that it had a bigger buffer so I could take more than 15 pictures on it in one go. But I am so keen to switch to mirrorless as soon as I can – I’m so sick of carrying heavy cameras.

So what are your plans for the future?

At the moment I’m quite keen to see what more I can get from London. And what more I can discover in the subjects that I cover.

I guess London is somewhere you could spend a lifetime.

And a fair amount of our colleagues have! I’m also hoping that one day I can be on staff at AFP, and then that will probably give me the opportunity to cover different stories as well. In news photography you always want the bigger stories for yourself, and I think that I’m still at that point where I feel like I can get bigger stories. I think the best thing about this job is being able to go out there and discover new things every day. I like that I don’t have to go to an office every day and I don’t have to be watched by someone all the time. As long as I get the pictures, I know I’ll be fine.

Tolga Akmen was talking to Jon Stapley. See more of his images at, and follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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